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Young CGA softball team shows some resolve in split with Wheaton

New London — Losing the first game of a doubleheader could potentially send a young softball team like the Coast Guard Academy into a funk.

But the Bears didn't get discouraged over a 2-0 loss.

It only served as motivation heading into game two against Wheaton College on Saturday.

Coach Arielle Cooper gave her team a pep talk before it took the field again and Coast Guard responded with a 9-1 victory that ended in the fifth inning because of the mercy rule.

"We definitely get riled up," said sophomore Mariah Dewey, a co-captain, about the team's mood after losing the opener. "Coach Coop is very motivating, too. We acknowledge how we did in the first game, but we don't dwell on it for long. We take five minutes to talk about it and then we're back and getting at it."

It's a mature approach for a team that has all freshmen and sophomores on the roster except for junior Maggie Perez, a co-captain.

Up until this season, only Perez had ever played a New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference game. The pandemic ended last season after 10 games and before conference play began.

The Bears also have a new head coach in Cooper, a former Fitch High School and Eastern Connecticut State University star.

Prior to becoming the interim head coach, Cooper served three years as an assistant on Donna Koczajowski's staff. Koczajowski, who won 505 games during her 23-year career, is now the academy's Associate Athletic Director and Department Chair for Health and Physical Education.

"I had four great years at Fitch," said Cooper, who coached the Falcons to two state titles. "Coach K was very persistent about getting me here and I'm glad she did."

The roster was well-stocked with talent when Cooper took charge. Dewey (.481), sophomore Katie Becker (.455) and freshman Christine Carey (.433) anchor a potent offense.

Freshmen pitchers Amanda Moore and Isabelle Shroyer have more than held their own while sharing the starting duties, combining to post a 1.62 earned run average.

"Luckily, coach (Koczajowski) had a great recruiting season last year and brought in a lot of fresh talent," Cooper said. "They're a young group, so it's great to mold them as well moving forward."

The players have embraced Cooper.

"She's awesome," Dewey said. "She's very motivating. She's tough on us but in the best possible way. She really believes in tough love and I think we do well with that kind of environment."

A lack of experience hasn't hurt the Bears.

With Saturday's split, Coast Guard improved to 6-2 in the NEMAC, only trailing first-place Babson.

In Saturday's loss, Moore (3-1) allowed seven hits and one earned run — a solo home run by Katelyn Barton in the sixth inning — while striking out nine in a complete game effort.

The Bears, who scored at least six runs in five of their first six games, went down quietly, managing just four hits against Sarah Pritchard.

A more determined Coast Guard team showed up for game two, as the Bears scored two runs in the first and then broke open the game with a six-run second inning that was highlighted by Becker's three-run home run. Becker (3-for-3, four RBI) and Carey (3-for-3, two RBI) combined for six of the team's 13 hits. Shroyer (3-1) allowed six hits and an unearned run in five innings.

The Bears are enjoying winning and each other's company.

"It's a little bit intimidating, for sure," Dewey about playing on a young team. "But I think Maggie has done a really good job as the only upperclassman. And the sophomores and freshmen, we get along really well. We're all really close friends since we're all a similar age.

"We're just blessed with talent. Chemistry just came naturally to us. We work very well together. We challenge each other a lot at practice. We're each other's competition fighting for the same position."

With a limited number of games this season, the Bears are trying to soak in every moment on the field.

They know any game could be canceled on short notice due to COVID-19 related issues.

"This season we're just grateful to be here," Cooper said. "A lot of schools have not been given the chance to play. Luckily, the academy has really pushed for us to be here and to be able to compete. As a coach, my job is to bring them to that standard that we're here to play and to execute. They're just really happy to play some games."

g.keefe@theday.com

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